Monday, April 20, 2015

James Howell, A Celebration

The painter James Howell passed away in October 2014.

On April 17th, his wife Joy hosted a Celebration of his Life in his New York studio and home. Artists, collectors, family members and friends gathered to pay tribute to his work and life.

What is it about his paintings that makes them so compelling, that obliges people to keep returning to see them, again and again?

Standing at a distance from one of his canvases we perceive an even gradation from a lighter to a darker hue. The eye glides effortlessly across its surface. A gentle, controlled descent … a measured glissando. 

Standing closer, the rungs of the ladder that facilitated our movement come into view. We see the gradations of the grey as horizontal bands. These are the notes that make up the scale, and, as when an accomplished musician plays, they are evenly and crisply delineated, not over-accentuated.

When two shades abut one another it is just about possible to acknowledge the shift. We can see the difference. 

But that task is made considerably harder when we try to compare one grey -- or range of greys -- to those of another painting. Holding a hue, a tone, in the mind's eye is hard. It takes training.

Yet undergoing the training is, in itself, a deeply rewarding experience. Who could deny that learning to see more acutely is a good thing? The capacity to discern variation and diversity within a given field -- any field -- is always life enhancing.

James Howell knew well that our eyes and our minds are endlessly nuanced resources, and he gifted us the stimuli to keep us exercising our facilities repeatedly. Like lifting the blinds each morning as we rise from our slumbers, these are paintings that renew and reinvigorate.